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Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan: By the Numbers


Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is in the books, and the event was a great display of why many players love the Modern format. While some pros were concerned that they would solve the format before heading into the event, this concern seems to be unfounded, based on the incredible diversity of the decks that showed up and performed well at the Pro Tour. Not only did we end up with seven different decks in the Top 8, but no single deck made up more than 9.3% of the metagame, which means that, at least in terms of diversity, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan looked much like the Modern format looked heading into the event. 

While diversity is one of the biggest strengths of Modern, it's also one of our biggest challenges today. With Standard Pro Tours, there are usually a handful of heavily played decks, which gives us a pretty large sample size for breaking down the numbers. Since "heavily played" at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan means 7% of the field rather than 30% of the field, we need to take the data from the Pro Tour with a grain of salt. Even discounting the split-format problem, which naturally makes the data much less reliable, the small sample sizes mean that our discussion today will be more fun (and hopefully enlightening) than scientific.

With this in mind, our plan for today is pretty simple: first, we'll break down the numbers on the most heavily played decks at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan; then, we'll discuss some of the lesser played decks before following this up with some of the most exciting under-the-radar decks and finally wrapping things up with the most played cards from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so let's get to it!

Baseline Numbers

To judge the performance of specific decks, we need a baseline for the format. The following table shows how the entire field performed at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. These baseline numbers allow us to see how individual decks performed at various data points. If a deck posts numbers above the baseline, it did better than average, while numbers below the baseline mean the deck performed worse than expected.

Baseline
  Day 1 Players Day 2 Players Day 1–2 Conversion Rate % Players 18+ Points (6–4+) % Players 21+ points (7–3+) % Players 24+ Points (8–2+/Top 8)
Baseline 464 293 63.1% 30.8% 14.8% 6%

Nine Most Played Decks (5%+ of the Day 1 Meta)

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Five-Color Humans 43 9.3% 29 67.4% 18 41.8% 8 18.6% 3 6.9%

It's hard to consider Five-Color Humans anything but a winner at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. While none of its numbers are off the charts (with the 18+% being the most notable, coming in just over 10% above expected), every single number is good. Plus, Five-Color Humans was the only deck to put two players into the Top 8, which means it will likely be a winner not just by the numbers but in terms of perspective as well, with extra camera time during the Top 8. 

Probably the most interesting aspect of Five-Color Humans is just how quickly the deck went from the very fringes of Modern to near the top table of a Pro Tour, with the printing of Kitesail Freebooter in Ixalan being the big push forward the deck needed. After the performance at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, it seems that the deck is here to stay and looks to be the default Aether Vial deck in the format, after both Death & Taxes and Merfolk basically forgot to show up for the Pro Tour. 

As far as innovations on the Pro Tour stage, the two big ones were Collected Company—which showed up in some of the lists but might end up forgotten, considering that both of the decks to make the Top 8 were traditional Aether Vial builds—and Dire Fleet Daredevil in the sideboard, which seems likely to stick around to steal opponents' spells. 

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+%
Affinity 37 8% 24 64.9% 10 27% 5 13.5% 1 2.7%

While Affinity was fine at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, the big picture is somewhat disappointing. After posting a very slightly above average conversion rate, Affinity posted below-average numbers at every other spot on the curve while also missing out on the Top 8, making the overall performance of the deck relatively mediocre. While these numbers wouldn't scare me away from picking up Affinity in Modern—the deck is always near the top of the format, despite a lot of hate in sideboards—it also wouldn't push me toward playing the deck.

As far as Pro Tour innovations, there isn't really much to discuss. While some builds apparently played Bitterblossom in the sideboard—one of the advantages of having access to any color of mana—all of the top-performing builds of Affinity look pretty much like how Affinity always looks.

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Burn 34 7.3% 22 64.7% 9 26.5% 5 14.7% 1 2.9%

The numbers on Burn look almost exactly like Affinity's: slightly above average conversion rate, slightly below average by most other metrics, with no high-end finishes to boost the archetype's profile. As such, everything I said about Affinity remains true here: Burn has been around Modern for forever and will likely continue to be a major part of the format, but its performance at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan isn't a reason to pick up the deck. 

As for innovations, the two big takeaways are that nearly all of the best-performing builds of Burn were playing between one and two copies of Grim Lavamancer in the main deck (while the builds with lesser finishes often weren't playing any at all) and, meanwhile, that only one of the nine Burn players was running Atarka's Command, even though all but one were splashing green for Destructive Revelry in the sideboard.

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Tron 32 6.9% 22 68.8% 12 37.5% 4 12.5% 2 6.25%

Heading into the event, Tron was one of the popular picks to break out, potentially to the extent where Wizards would take action and ban the deck, but Tron posted a fairly uneven performance at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Tron posted a solid conversion rate and an above-average percentage of players posting a winning record but a fairly weak rate of pushing players over the hump and getting at least seven wins in constructed (of the 12 players to get a least 18 points, eight of them got exactly 18 points, the equivalent of going 6-4). Plus, Tron missed out on the Top 8 completely, so it was out of the public eye and conversation all day Sunday. While I'm starting to sound like a broken record, the end result is another performance that isn't especially good or bad, which is apparently the theme of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan: a million playable decks but no deck that is anywhere near dominant. 

Maybe the most interesting aspect of Tron at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is what version showed up. While Wizards lumped all the builds together in the metagame breakdowns—so it's impossible to know exactly which build performed best—the general breakdown is interesting. All of the best-performing builds of Tron were Mono-Green, even though only four of the 12 Tron players who did well enough to get their list published were on the Mono-Green build of the deck. Meanwhile, GB Tron was the most popular build, taking up seven of the 12 slots. Finally, we had a single GR Tron player get six wins at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. What happens moving forward is anyone's guess. While it's likely that GR Tron will continue to come in a distant third place in the Tron rankings, whether players go with the most popular build GB build or the less popular but better performing Mono-Green build remains to be seen.

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Grixis Death's Shadow 30 6.5% 20 66.7% 11 36.7% 7 23.3% 2 6.7%

While only the fifth-most-played deck on Day 1, Grixis Death's Shadow was one of the best-performing decks at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, posting numbers comparable to Five-Color Humans but without sneaking into the Top 8 to boost its profile. Not only did Grixis Death's Shadow do a good job of putting players into Day 2 and giving its pilots winning records, but it posted high-end finishes, coming in nearly 10% above expected, in terms of the 21+ point percentage. As such, it wouldn't be a surprise to see players stick with the deck, especially those who dig behind the Top 8 finishes and into the meat of the numbers.

On the other hand, Grixis Death's Shadow has one huge problem: it wasn't even the best Death's Shadow deck at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. While Traverse Shadow started with too few players to qualify for a full breakdown, a massive 62% of the 13 players who started off with the deck on Day 1 ended up finishing with a winning record, essentially doubling up the expected 30.8%—this after converting 11 of 13 from Day 1 to Day 2.

This leaves us with a weird scenario as far as Death's Shadow is concerned. Grixis Death's Shadow was good and heavily played, while Traverse Shadow was great but not that heavily played. Moving forward, the Traverse the Ulvenwald build might very well be the best choice, but we'll see if that's enough to overcome the fact that Grixis Death's Shadow has been the default build for quite a while now.

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Eldrazi Tron 26 5.6% 20 76.9% 8 30.7% 3 11.5% 2 7.6%

Eldrazi Tron was one of the best of the 10 most played decks at converting players from Day 1 to Day 2 but followed up the sterling Day 1 performance by posting average to below-average Day 2 numbers. This puts it in our huge group of good but not especially great decks at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. I'm not sure how many more ways I can say it, so I'll keep it short: Eldrazi Tron is a fine choice, as are approximately 30 decks in Modern, but it isn't significantly better or worse than most of the other options.

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Jeskai Control 23 45% 17 73.9% 6 26.8% 2 8.6% 0 0%

Jeskai Control's story is a tale of two days. After Day 1, the archetype was looking like a winner, with a strong (more than 10% above expected) conversion rate, making it seem as if control might be on the rise in Modern. However, Jeskai Control followed this up with a horrible second day, coming in below expectations at every point on the curve and far below average for giving players seven or more wins in constructed. 

It's hard to parse out what happened with Jeskai Control at the event thanks to the split format. While it's possible that the deck was worse against the Day 2 meta than it was against the Day 1 meta, it's also possible that Jeskai Control pilots performed well enough in draft to make it into Day 2, while the deck actually wasn't that strong in constructed. Because of this, it's hard to really make any definite statements about the deck. Do you believe the strong conversion numbers or the poor finish numbers? That's the question for Jeskai Control moving forward.

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
Storm 23 5% 13 56.5% 4 17.3% 2 8.6% 1 4.3%

You know Storm is in trouble when Finkel decides to play Tron, and the numbers back this up. Heading into Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, there was some worry that Storm would be the breakout deck, but in the end, the deck was horrible at the event. While at least there was some gray area with a deck like Jeskai Control, with numbers being mixed between Days 1 and 2, Storm was bad by every metric, posting the worst conversion rate of the 10 most played decks at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and then backing this up by lacking finishes on Day 2. In short, out of the nine decks that started Day 1 with at least 5% of the meta, Storm was—by far—the worst deck at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. The good news (or bad news, depending on your feelings about Storm) is that this performance makes it significantly less likely that Wizards will decide to ban a Storm card next week. 

 
Deck Day 1 Players Day 1 Meta % Day 2 Players Conversation Rate 18+ Players 18+ % 21+ Players 21+ % 24+ Players 24+ %
UW Control 23 5% 14 60.9% 5 21.7% 3 13% 2 8.6%

UW Control at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan was basically just a worse version of Jeskai Control, which is especially problematic, since Jeskai Control wasn't especially good. Out of the 10 most played decks at the event, eight posted positive conversion rates from Day 1 to Day 2, and UW Control was one of the two (alongside Storm) that performed below expectations, which makes it unsurprising that it performed poorly in terms of posting winning finishes as well. While the Day 1 numbers gave Modern control players hope, in the end, the conventional wisdom that control is a tough sell in Modern seems to have held true at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. While the very nature of Modern means that few decks are unplayable, most of the heavily played archetypes performed average to good, but control broke the mold by performing average to poorly, which probably means it's better to look elsewhere moving forward. 

Notes on Other Decks

There are so many decks in Modern that it's basically impossible to talk about everything (by my count, a massive 30 decks posted a winning record at the event). However, here are a few quick thoughts on some of the decks that fell just outside of our most played list, coming in at less than 5% of the Day 1 metagame.

  • Jund and Abzan were horrible overall, posting very below average conversion rates, although Reid Duke managed to break the mold and Top 8 with Abzan, which means the weekend wasn't a complete loss for the archetypes.
  • Mardu Pyromancer was similar to Jund and Abzan, posting bad numbers overall but managing to make the Top 8 in the hands of Gerry Thompson.
  • Maybe the biggest surprise of the weekend is that combo in general was pretty poor at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, with Dredge, Storm, and Counters Company (the three most played combo decks) all performing far below average in terms of converting Day 1 to Day 2 as well as in posting strong finishes on Day 2.
  • RB Hollow One was one of the best decks at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. While it fell short in the Top 8, 100% of its players made it into Day 2, with 66.7% posting a winning record. Expect to see more of the deck moving forward.
  • Another great underplayed deck was Madcap Moon, which finished the tournament with four of its five players posting winning records and getting their decklists published on the Mothership.

Summary

So, where does all of this leave us in terms of Modern moving forward? I honestly have no idea. The biggest takeaway from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is that Modern is basically exactly what we thought it was heading into the event: a format with a ton of viable decks but without any single deck that can claim the title of best in the format. As such, the best technique for Modern still seems to be to pick a deck that you enjoy playing and practice that deck a ton, and you will be able to have success with it. Modern isn't like Standard, where you need to be playing one of a small number of decks to have a legitimate chance to win a tournament—a massive 30 decks posted a winning record at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan—so play what you enjoy, and learn to play it well.

Six Spiciest Under-the-Radar Decks

UR Kiln Fiend is basically the less all-in Pro Tour version of the Blistering Rage deck we played for Budget Magic a long time ago. If you have a Monastery Swiftspear on Turn 1 or a Kiln Fiend on Turn 2, it's pretty easy to untap and win the next turn by casting a bunch of free pump spells like Manamorphose and Mutagenic Growth before finishing things off with Temur Battle Rage. If you like being aggressive and slinging spells, UR Kiln Fiend looks like a fun and solid option.

We did an Instant Deck Tech on a very similar deck a while ago, so it's exciting to see WB Zombies (or Zombie Copter) show up on the Pro Tour stage. While the deck isn't especially fast or broken, it's really difficult to deal with, since all of the threats return to the battlefield from the graveyard, which makes them work well with Smuggler's Copter and Liliana of the Veil, since we can discard our Bloodghasts, Gravecrawlers, and Dread Wanderers and then return them to the battlefield from our graveyard to generate card advantage and keep the beatdown going!

Even thought RB Hollow One made the Top 8 and was one of the best decks by the numbers (albeit with a small sample size), it still qualifies as one of the spiciest decks from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. While the deck is amazingly high variance, relying on cards like Goblin Lore and Burning Inquiry, which allow you to draw a ton of cards but then force you to discard at random, the payoff is worth the risk, with Turn 1 Hollow Ones along with boards full of Gurmag Anglers and Bloodghast in Turn 2. If you liked the Mono-Red Hollow One deck from Budget Magic, you'll love this fully powered Pro Tour version!

I almost didn't include Ironworks Combo, which is basically the newest version of the notoriously annoying Eggs deck, because the deck is amazingly unfun to play against, but spicy is spicy. The basic idea of Ironworks Combo is that you play a bunch of random artifacts that draw you cards when they enter the battlefield or die (or in some cases, both) and then eventually turn these artifacts into mana with Krark-Clan Ironworks. Scrap Trawler lets you go pseudo-infinite by getting artifacts back from your graveyard, and then eventually you end the game by hard-casting an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, sometimes as early as Turn 3!

While Bant Knightfall might qualify as spicy regardless, since it's a fairly under-the-radar combo, the main reason the build is worth mentioning is because it reaches into the Commander card pool for Lightning Greaves as a way to speed up the combo. If you aren't familiar with Bant Knightfall, if you can get a Retreat to Coralhelm on the battlefield with a non-summoning sick Knight of the Reliquary, you win the game by getting all of the lands out of your deck, making Knight of the Reliquary huge, then dumping your hand with pseudo-infinite mana and eventually attacking with the Knight. Adding Lightning Greaves to the deck means you don't have to survive a turn with your Knight of the Reliquary sitting on the battlefield before comboing off, and considering this build was the only Bant Knightfall list to perform well enough to be published on the Mothership, it seems like the plan might have worked.

One of the decks people asked about a lot on Twitter this weekend was Death & Taxes, and while Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan overall wasn't good for the archetype, one interesting build did manage to post a finish: Eldrazi Spirits. The deck is basically UW Death & Taxes but with Thought-Knot Seer and Eldrazi Displacer thrown in, giving the deck two more powerful creatures and a form of inevitability by blinking Thought-Knot Seer over and over again. If you're looking for a new-ish take on Death & Taxes for Modern, this is probably the place to start!

Most Played Cards

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#PTRIX—25 Most Played Non-Land Cards
Card Total Copies Total Decks
Lightning Bolt 177 52
Thoughtseize 176 56
Fatal Push 139 44
Inquisition of Kozilek 118 38
Snapcaster Mage 112 33
Collective Brutality 111 47
Path to Exile 110 35
Serum Visions 108 28
Street Wraith 96 24
Noble Hierarch 92 24
Relic of Progenitus 84 34
Dismember 83 48
Expedition Map 80 20
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 78 20
Ancient Stirrings 76 19
Death's Shadow 76 19
Grafdigger's Cage 73 46
Mantis Rider 72 18
Kitesail Freebooter 72 18
Thalia's Lieutenant 72 18
Champion of the Parish 72 18
Reflector Mage 71 19
Meddling Mage 71 18
Aether Vial 68 17
Liliana of the Veil 67 27

Apart from the Humans cluttering up the bottom half of the list, the biggest takeaway from the most played cards at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is how it looks almost exactly the broader Modern metagame. The black discard moved up a bit, and Path to Exile moved down a couple of slots, but for the most part, the Pro Tour metagame was exactly the same as the Magic Online / SCG metagame that we've had over the past few months. This is a testament to just how great a format Modern is at the moment. Over 400 pros spent thousands of hours trying to break the format, only to end up playing Modern just like the rest of us, with a bunch of good but not great decks and mass disagreement over which deck was best for the event. Modern is awesome, and based on these results, hopefully Wizards takes a very light touch (and perhaps no touch at all) with the banned-and-restricted announcement next week. 

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#PTRIX—Top RIX Cards
Card Total Copies Total Decks
Negate 18 10
Dire Fleet Daredevil 17 8
Blood Sun 2 1

So, how did Rivals of Ixalan do at its namesake Pro Tour? The short answer is that it didn't do anything at all. Discounting Negate, which isn't really a Rivals of Ixalan card, since it's reprinted in just about every set, the only Rivals of Ixalan cards to show up were Dire Fleet Daredevil in the sideboard of some Humans builds and a couple of Blood Suns in our single GR Tron player's sideboard. While in general the return of Modern to the Pro Tour stage seems to have been a huge success, with strong viewership numbers and diverse and exciting gameplay, if there's one downside, it's that Modern isn't really a great format for showcasing Magic's newest sets. Hopefully, Wizards figures out a way around this problem or perhaps decides that the benefits outweigh the cost because from the perspective of someone watching the event at home, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan was one of the best Pro Tours we've had in the past couple of years.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What did you think of the Modern Pro Tour? Should Modern stick around as a Pro Tour format? What are you excited to play in Modern moving forward based on this weekend's results? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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